Three Readings in 24 Hours

The last day of class also happened to be the launch party of my last edition of Ramifications—and by “my last edition” I mean the last copy of Ram I worked on as a staff member or editor. We opened the evening with a slam poetry competition that went surprisingly well (considering I didn’t even know if anyone was going to come for it). I don’t know much about slam poetry, I admit, but I really liked the poems that were performed. Afterwards we had an open mic for music and regular readings. I read one of my poems and one of my short stories, Thanksgiving in Philadelphia.

Dr. Watkins has always played old Appalachian/bluegrass ballads almost every launch party since I came to Berry. When he was singing this time was the closest I came to crying—not because it was a sad song (it wasn’t), but because for four years that’s been one of my favorite parts of the semester. So I teared up, but I didn’t cry.

Overall we had a great turnout and a lot of fun. After everyone left, my staff and volunteers presented me with a little chest filled with quill pens, inkwells and a journal. I nearly teared up again, but I held it together admirably.

The next day, “Reading Day,” I had two other readings. The first was a poetry reading celebrating the end of Poetry Month. People spread out blankets and set up folding chairs outside the library, and they had angel food cake and lemonade. Students and some faculty read their own poetry and a few favorite poems by famous authors. I read a couple of poems, including one called The Flare, which is about Rheumatoid Arthritis. After the reading, a woman I didn’t know approached me and said, “My daughter has Rheumatoid Arthritis, and your poem told me more about what that’s like than anything she’s shared, anything her doctors have told me, or anything I’ve read. Thank you.”

Right in the feels, guys. Right in the feels. It meant so much to me to hear that.

Later that night was my senior reading. The other creative writing majors and I went out for a pre-game to help people relax. (I relaxed over a big glass of tea—others chose different drinks.) It was interesting chatting with people who’d been my classmates for years but who I hadn’t really hung out with before.

After prep talking each other, we went to the reading. It was in the fancy Ford living room, which has a lot of Italian art and stuff. There wasn’t a huge turnout, but that was fine with me. Everyone did great. I read an excerpt from my 20 page short story, Bloodroot Blooming, and a little bit from Naan in the Afghan Village. We hung around afterwards eating the snacks and talking to professors and generally just goofing off. It was a lot of fun, and having so many readings this semester has helped me overcome some of my fear of reading in front of people. Perks of being a senior?

Best Books of 2012

Last year I used Goodreads to set a goal of 100 books in 2011, and I made it! This year I gave myself a bit of slack and aimed for 75 books. I wanted to focus more on non-fiction, but… didn’t quite do as well as I would have liked. Non-fiction and I are still learning how to get along.

Out of my 75 books, I present: My best reads of 2012!

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Dear Dr. Tolkien

Wrote this while I was abroad, but I didn’t get the chance to take it to Tolkien’s grave. Thought I’d share anyway.

Dear Dr. Tolkien,

I wanted to thank you for changing my life.

When I was a little girl, my dad would read your books to me and my siblings. He read them three times to us, when I was eight, and again when I was twelve, and again when I was fourteen. When I was twelve I prayed for Frodo after he was stabbed. Later I remember running to the book and turning to the passage in the Mines of Moria, gasping in relief when I saw it said that Gandalf was gone, not dead.

I think I learned to love fiction as I listened to your books.

I think your books are why I began to love to write.

One day when you were writing your manuscript, your eyes were tired and you didn’t want to be working, and the words came out muddled and wrong. You couldn’t have known what those words would become. You didn’t know that one day my mother would read your words in her second edition of Lord of the Rings. You didn’t know my father would study your words in his college class. And you couldn’t have imagined a bunch of little American kids hanging on those words every night.

You couldn’t have known what those words would come to mean to me. It isn’t just a story. It’s the sound of my dad’s voice when he’s exhausted from working three jobs. It’s the smell of my mother’s edition—musty old pages wrapped in decades of my family. It’s the comfort on that night when my bloodwork came back bad, and I opened the book and read, “I do not believe this darkness will endure.”

One day those words stopped being yours and they became mine.

And that, I think, is the beauty of fiction. It just keeps growing, gathering lives and memories and interweaving them in a text.

That’s why I want to write.

Thank you, Mr. Tolkien, for your words. They have taught me that joy is sometimes like swords, that darkness will not endure, that healing doesn’t always come in this world. They have been my Sam when I thought I was carrying the Ring alone. Thank you.

Thank you for changing my life.

Sincerely,

Alyssa Hollingsworth